Author: Allegra Goodman
Year: 2006
Genre: Literary fiction

Intuition is the story of an academic controversy in which one graduate student accuses another of falsifying results. There's a lot of talk in the book about how science is a search for "truth," while I've always understood it to be a search for "facts." In this case, truth is hard to come by: not only the scientific truth of the results of the experiment in question, but even the more mundane truth about what happened in the laboratory.

Goodman draws up her characters masterfully. What I liked most about it is that there are no clear good guys and bad guys. Instead, you sympathize first with one character, then with another. I really wanted to take sides one way or the other, but I couldn't do it; the characters were too complex.

DMZ Vol. 1: On the Ground

Author: Brian Wood
Year: 2006
Genre: Graphic novel

There's a civil war going on in North America. Long Island belongs to one side, New Jersey belongs to the other, and Manhattan is the DMZ. A young reporter gets stranded there and has to find a way to survive, and hopefully send back some exclusive news.

The comic's first impact is a visceral reminder that war is real, and that modern war happens to everyday people in the place where they live. Amid the horrific vision of a bombed-out lower Manhattan, you're forced to remember that the realities of bombed-out Baghdad (and countless other places as well, but especially Baghdad) are just as close to home.

Premise aside, the book's plot and characters are interesting enough to carry you through the first few issues. Future installments will tell whether they're meant to function as your guide through the nightmare landscape of urban war, or will exist as independent entities in their own right.

Unknown Quantity

Author: John Derbyshire
Year: 2006
Genre: Science history

I like math. I was a math minor in college, and would have double-majored if I could have taken math classes on my junior year abroad. In high school I was really good at math, but when I took honors math classes in college I was just good enough to hang on for the ride. I realized that, as much as I enjoyed learning about group theory, complex analysis, and the search for really big prime numbers, I wasn't good enough to do it professionally. Sadly, if you don't live in that world full-time, it's astonishingly difficult to keep up with it at all, and so I let my math lapse after graduation.

Unknown Quantity is a rare exception: a book about math and math history made accessible to the interested layperson. And Derbyshire doesn't just write about math; he writes about algebra, possibly the most abstract and conceptually challenging branch of theoretical mathematics. By covering the history of algebra over the last 6000 years or so, the book follows how emerging awareness of numbers in ancient Babylonia led to the Greeks, the Renaissance, and the algebra that most people remember (or don't) from high school. Then, in the 17th and 18th centuries, algebra took a sharp turn to the abstract, but Derbyshire makes clear connections to show how it evolved from more representational problems. He challenged me, but he never lost me entirely.